Page images
PDF
EPUB

We do not impute disloyalty to the Protestants for adopting another line of conduct, such an imputation could have no foundation, because they were loyal to their constitution. Nor, when we mention the Catholics, do we speak of the wretched, ignorant, and semibarbarians of that body. Not that part of them, which are led by their passions to express their sentiments by the use of pikes ; but that part which possess sound and liberal understanding, and express their sentiments by their decisions on all public questions. The facts of the rebellions of the Pretender, the Volunteers, and the Union, stand recorded in the page of our history; and afford the most emphatic illustration of the absurdity of those blind politicians who ruminate in the darkness of past ages, or in the illumed aberrations of the present, to asperse with odium the character and the claims of their Catholic fellow subjects. But, even if we again, for the sake of argument, admit that the Catholics under the circumstances of being, excluded from the con stitution, and of their religion being insulted, are the repub. licans, which some persons represent them to be, and so bigotted as to require nothing short of the re-establishment of their church, would not the very boon of free admission into the possession of equal rights with their Protestant brethren, completely alter their political sentiments, and teach them the policy of tolerating the religious establishments of long standing, and held in great veneration. Will it not remove those feelings of jealousy with which, if they have any feelings, they must contrast the pomp and wealth of the Protestant Episcopacy with the poverty of their owo? As it is not consistent with common sense to conc:ude that the relief from political disabilities will encourage the support, and repress the oppug. nancy of this body, to the views and happiness of the Protestants in regard to religious matters. Having as we trust, fully supported our position, that the admission of the Catholics into Parliament, is 'not inconsistent with the Protestant religion, as by law established, we cannot quit the subject without animadverting on the rumours which prevailed at this time relative to the objection which the coronation oath has

suggested. From the circumstances which have occurred, either the reasons for Mr. Pitt's resignation in 1801, were unfounded, or the objection was certainly made, for Mr. Pitt was too power ful, both in Parliament and in the Cabinet, to have found reasons to postpone his favourite measure upon any other grounds than the objection above mentioned. If then, we may be induced to infer that such an objection was made, coming from the quarter it does, and originating in the conscientious consideration of the sacredness of an oath, it demands respect and admiration, however unfounded or injurious it may prove in the result. “The Protestant reformed religion as by law established.” In discussing the nature of this oath, there must be kept ir view, first the circumstances under which it was fr med; and secondly, the expectation that may be said to have been formed of the conduct of nis Majesty, as one of the contracting parties by Parliament as the other. For certainly, the object of the oath can best be ex plained by the circumstances that occasioned it; and his Majesty will act according to it, if he fulfils the expectations, which on taking it he encouraged those to entertain who received it of him. In regard to the time when the present coronation oath was first demanded of an English prince, it would appear that it was founded upon two considerations; first, the conduct of James in attempting to establish the Catholic religion in defiance of Parliament; and secondly, the preventing of the repeal of the laws for establishing the Pro testant religion, should even Parliament require it. It is unnecessary to bring forward the several facts which proved the intention of James, by force of his prerogative, to establish the Catholic church. He did, in truth, actually do so in Ireland, and his public conduct in favour of the Catholics in that country, was made a charge of accusation against him as to his intentions in this. How reasonable, therefore, was it for the Parliament on this king's abdication, to frame an oath to prevent any future abuse of the royal prerogative. This view alone of the questior would be sufficient to remove all doubts.

in regard to the difficulties attending the constitution of the oath, and affords a proof that the object of our ancestors was to control the king in his executive, not in his legislative authority. But supposing this explanation not to be correct, which, I ain induced to think so, that it could enter into the mind of Parliament to impose a necessity on the part of the king to obstruct the will of Parliament, by refusing his assent to the bills which they might pass; in what cases, and under what circumstances, was the king to do that which was in every respect inconsistent with the principles, though not the letter of the constitution ? It was only in those cases in which the laws for establishing the Protestant religion were concerned, and under those circumstances in which an attempt was apprehended of the Catholics to restore their hierarchy. Would then, the assent of his Majesty io a bill for admitting the Catholics to sit in Parliament, either be a repeal directly or in directly of those laws or any of them by which the church of England is established ? Or do there exist any reasons for suspecting in times like those, when the Pope, like a beggar in a pass-cart, was transferred from St. Peter's to Notre Dame, to anoint a Catholic usurser, that any attempt was likely to be made, or could be successful on the part of the Catholics to establish their religion? Whether, therefore, the oath is considered as it binds the king as to his executive or legislative character, it is equally manifest that his act of assenting to the admission of the Catholic claims would not be in the least degree derogatory with the interest, or even the letter of it. Let us now examine this oath according to the established principles of moral philosophy. It is laid down, that in cases of promise between two parties, the person who promises fulfils his duty, if he does every thing that is requisite to meet the expectations which his engagement has excited. The parties to the coronation oath are the King and the Parliament. Did then the Parliament expect that the king in taking the oath, bound himself not to grant to his Catholic subjects the franchise of sitting in Parliament? Or, did the king himself feel that his engagements were to this extent? It is very evident, that neither the king intended to keep them excluded, nor that the Parliament expected that he had undertaken to do so. The concessions already made to the Catholics in Ireland, prove that the difficulties which have flowed from the oath are of modern date. But, even if the king had specifically promised Parliament at their request, not to make concessions to the Catholics, this promise would be absolved, if Parliament themselves proposed the concessions for his Majesty's ratification. Thus, in whatever point of view this oath is contemplated, whether as affecting the prerogative of the king as independent of parliament, or his prerogative as acting as a component part of the legislature; or whether, as having excited expectations of a particularly cogent description, it has the appearance of being of such a nature as not to form any reasonable impediment to the wished-for and necessary measure of Catholic emancipation.

It is one of the most remarkable characteristics of the late struggle of the Raman Catholics of Ireland, that the most scrupulous obedience to the laws was insisted on by the leaders and simultaneously yielded. When an act of Parliament, then, denounced the Catholic Association, that body, powerful as it was in its undisputed command over millons, immediately yielded to the law, without any attempt at resistance. But it sunk only to rise again in another form. Its great leader saw that, so long as the elements of it existed-so long as seven millions were oppressed, and knew how their oppressions might be removed—that, crush as the legislature might, one after another, the various forms which these elements might assume, they had still within them the principles of re-arrangement~they could not be extinguished. The object of the Association had been, to let the grievances of the Catholics be heard; and, if the people once learned the art of telling them, how were they to be prevented from doing so in some form or other? These grievances were connected with everything. In their connection with the legislature, in their connection with religion, in their commerce, in their farms, in their families there were grievances. They could not read a newspaperthey could not enter a court-room—they could not perform their devotions on the Sabbath-they could not even plant a field of potatos, without being reminded of their grievances : and to have met every form in which they could have complained of any of them, would have required an act larger than all the rest of the statute book.

Accordingly, an aggregate meeting of Catholic gentlemen was held on the 13th of July 1825, at which, a committee of twenty-one was appointed, to report “ Whether there can be framed, without any violation of the existing laws, a permanent body to assist in the conducting or management of such portion of Catholic affairs as it may be, by law, permitted to have managed, without resorting to the too frequent holding of aggregate meetings, and, in particular, without in any way infringing on a recent statute.” The principle on which any plan should be formed was, that a permanent Association should still continue to exist, for the purpose of managing such matters connected with the interest of the Catholics as the law permitted ; and that the duty of petitioning for relief, or obtaining legal redress for Roman Catholics, should be left to separate aggregate meetings, held in such a manner as not to infringe the terms of the act. A plan for this purpose was drawn out by Mr. O'Connell; and the committee returned him “ their marked thanks for the undiminished zeal and talent with which he performed this duty, According to this plan, the new Association was to contain men of all religious professions. Few, however, but Catholics actually attended; and it was afterwards thought expedient that the liberal Protestants and the Catholics should not coalesce, but carry on their exertions separately. No member was to take an oath. The purposes prohibited by the late Act were speedily disclaimed. One of the most remarkable features of the plan was—“ The new Catholic Association can and may be formed merely for the purpose of public and private charity, and such other purposes as are not prohibited by the said statutes of the 6th Geo. IV. chap. 4th.” The different purposes of the new Associa

« PreviousContinue »